Bryan Silbermann, Produce Marketing Association
Bryan Silbermann, Produce Marketing Association

Many of us will take time this holiday season to refocus on life’s aspects that matter most.

You’ll likely take time out to give thanks, to spend with family and friends, and to reflect on accomplishments and make resolutions for a new year.

What about leveraging this season of renewed focus to take time to strengthen your leadership abilities?

Lessons in leadership contribute not only to on-the-job effectiveness, but also to personal effectiveness. In your community, confidence to lead can influence social good. At work, leadership talent remains a company’s best competitive advantage.

Simply put, leaders who invest in their own development have better ideas, execute those ideas better and develop other people better.

The problem is time. Senior executives’ hours get so squeezed it can seem there’s barely time for night’s rest let alone time to retreat for strategic learning.

The reality is that finding time to invest in professional development is like finding time to exercise or prepare a home-cooked meal of fresh fruits and vegetables — it’s essential to good health and well worth the effort.

Here are three simple steps to help you find time for leadership wellness. Also consider what these PMA members say about their own leadership development experiences.

1. Begin with awareness

Acknowledging the importance of investing in yourself opens your mind to recognizing when and where to find it.

Exit surveys at various PMA events reveal industry executives acquire professional development from many places.

They cite internal company programs, publications, associations, academic institutes, consultants — and even networking — as resources.

So look for lessons in leadership all around you. Some industry members have said the result of their doing so…


  •  “…challenges you to think about yourself, your organization and the people you can influence daily to make a difference in your performance and others around you.” — Van Argiros, vice president of sales and marketing, Combs Produce

  •  “…challenges your way of thinking and leading your company. And, most importantly, gives you tools to make a difference.” — Joe Pezzini, chief operating officer, Ocean Mist Farms

  •  “…inspired me to grow as a leader, learn from others and create a compelling view of the future.” — Douglas Ronan, vice president of marketing, Driscoll Strawberry Associates


2. Ask colleagues

The produce industry is full of amazing leadership, and you’re never too senior in rank to seek advice.

Ask other industry executives whose leadership style you admire for leadership development recommendations. Many first-time attendees to PMA Foundation for Industry Talent leadership programs have said they registered only because a colleague made the suggestion.

So if granting yourself permission to take time for professional development gives you a guilt trip, perhaps you’ll feel better if the suggestion comes from a peer.

Here are a few industry colleagues who commit to leadership development and find it to be…


  •  “...the best investment I make on an annual basis.” — Vic Smith, chief executive officer, Fresh Innovations

  •  “…an opportunity to reflect on many needs in our business and personal lives.” — Robby Barkley, chief executive officer, GreenGate Fresh LLP

  •  “…a great time to step back and reassess your style of leadership.” — Rich Dachman, vice president of produce, Sysco Corp.


3. Spin networking

Since we seem to have less difficulty finding networking time than we do time for learning, why not make networking events work double duty as leadership enhancement?

For example, you could use leadership conversations as ice breakers (“Hi! What a pleasure to meet you. I’ve always admired your company’s progress and style. How do you keep your team motivated to routinely produce such creative approaches?”).

You could also use discussions about current issues to learn about how other industry members’ apply leadership styles to steer teams toward solutions.

In fact, networking events can actually be like breakout sessions where you can:


  •  stretch your thinking with broader perspectives from people in top positions and different industry segments;

  •  discuss issues similar to your own to create an idea exchange; and

  •  gain greater comprehension of industry topics to translate knowledge into solutions relevant to your company.


My point is there’s no better time than now to recharge your leadership mindset through the many leadership development opportunities available.

Regardless of seniority, executives still need to routinely hone their leadership abilities.

The fresh produce marketplace will continue to change. Because today’s decisions create our industry’s future, leaders need to keep pace.

The decisions you make today will determine how and whether your company will be in business decades from now.

As I reminded industry members in a recent address and will reiterate here: Never forget that lifelong learning is the key to ongoing success.

Bryan Silbermann is president and chief executive officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association

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